The is little “early” early voting in a mature early voting state

I’ve always been proud of the description bestowed upon me by John Lindback, previously the director of elections for the State of Oregon and now a senior officer in the Elections Initiatives at the Pew Center on the States.

John once introduced me by saying: “Paul Gronke, who is frustratingly even handed with respect to vote by mail.”

Today’s posting is in John’s honor.  It doesn’t make an argument for or against voting by mail, but it does show how well VBM can work in a mature system, and how many of the concerns that have been expressed about “early” early voting simply aren’t an issue in the Beaver State.  (For illustrations, see CNN’s election blog here,  or Bloomberg here which I addressed earlier here.)

After 12 years, how many Oregonians are “early” early voters?

Today’s Oregonian reports 30% of registered voters in the state have returned their ballots by the close of business on Tuesday, one week before election.

This return rate is comparable with past elections.   Column 7 in this Table from the Secretary of State’s office shows ballot returns one week out: 34% (2012 primary), 26% (2010 general), 30% (2010 primary), 42% (2010 January special, 29% (2008 general).

Oregon’s voter turnout is high–69.3% of voter eligible population and 85.7% of registered voters so it’s not the case that these ballot totals reflect a disengaged electorate.

The facts are these:

  1. In a state that has had one of the most liberal early voting regimes for 12 years, as few as 25% and seldom over 40% of ballots arrive a week before Election Day.
  2. In most elections, approximately 25% (18-38%) of ballots are returned on Election Day.
  3. Finally, as I’d blogged about previously, Oregon (and Washington) somehow manage to make this all work even though they mail their domestic ballots approximately two weeks before election day, the shortest by mail transit time in the country.

Say what you will about vote by mail, but make sure what you say comports with the facts on the ground.